Friday, February 13, 2009

Masterful Language: on the First Page

I just realized that Kirsten referenced this same passage but oh well... On the very first page of Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston uses language effectively to perfectly capture the essence of what it must have been like for people like Pheoby and Janie during the time period of this novel. Hurston captures the mood of the entire black neighborhood and sets the stage for intrigue with this passage:
"The people all saw her come because it was sundown. The sun was gone, but he had left his footprints in the sky. It was the time for sitting on porches beside the road. It was the time to hear things and talk. These sitters had been tongueless, earless, eyeless conveniences all day long. Mules and other brutes had occupied their skins. But now, the sun and the bossman were gone, so the skins felt powerful and human. They became lords of sounds and lesser things. They passed notions through their mouths. They sat in judgment."
The black men and women of Pheoby's neighborhood work hard for most of the day under the watchful eye of the "bossman". This novel occurs long after the abolition of slavery, but Hurston leaves no doubt that the black characters are still oppressed by white "masters". Hurston describes the blacks as "Tongueless, earless, and eyeless": they are simply laborers who have no power and experience no pleasure during the day. At night, however, they make up for their monotonous daily lives. They enjoy the cool of the night and take the oppurtunity to gossip with their neighbors.
While gossip is a respite for the characters of the novel, Hurston makes it clear that it is also an outlet for the pent-up anger that they have. Hurston vividly describes the way they attack a newcomer (Janie) with glee: "They made burning statements with questions, and killing tools out of laughs. It was mass cruelty." So, while it is probably not the best outlet for anger, the women attack one another as a way to release their emotions.
Hurston does a masterful job at not only creating a setting and mood, but capturing powerful emotions with this passage. At night, the characters in the story feel empowered and set the stage for excitement.

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